This unit is designed to be used with upper elementary school students and focuses on teaching them about the twelve labors and life of Hercules. It was also developed to correct the misinformation proffered by the Disney version of the myth and to that end, we will attempt to teach the students to be more critical of what they watch on television and in movies. This study can also be used to examine the meaning of those labors as they might be understood by eight to twelve year olds. An important part of this discussion would be the children’s interpretation of the myth and how it might relate to their lives.
It would be appropriate to open a discussion with the students with a definition of what it is to be a hero. We would create a list of the fitting characteristics and then ask the children to name some people they might consider heroes. The next exercise would be to determine whether or not these people fit the listed characteristics. The rationale for this exercise is to give the children a realistic idea of what a hero is; that they should look to folks such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Christa McAuliffe, and U.S Capitol policemen Jacob J. Chestnut and John Gibson as heroes rather than at sports superstars such as Michael Jordan or the wrestler Sting. During this discussion, we can determine what it is about them that makes them heroes.
In the most simple form, the story of Hercules life can be interpreted as the story of every-man. Our hero was the son of the most significant figures in Greek mythology, yet he was made to struggle through incredible difficulties in order to fulfill the purpose of his life. He can be compared to any of the children who participate in this study by showing that it does not matter who or what your parents are or where you are from, you can and must make something of your life. As the son of an immortal, it was Hercules desire to attain that same immortality, but since he is also the son of a mortal, he had to face mortal challenges. Perhaps to neutralize the advantage of being the son of Zeus, the obstacles he faced were exacerbated by Hera’s jealousy and need for vengeance.
Comparisons might be made with the kinds of struggles and dangers that the children face in their own lives. There are the drugs and gangs and the allure of the money they involve. These challenges seem to grow increasingly difficult as the children grow older, especially in the inner-city,. Even as Hercules faced ever greater labors which took him farther and farther from the safety of his home, so must our students deal with unsavory influences and conflicts as they grow older, and away from the comforts of childhood.